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A Fine Rendering of a Repertoire Favorite

Kennedy Center
03/12/2022 -  & March 14, 18, 20, 23, 26, 2022
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Così fan tutte, K. 588
Ferruccio Furlanetto (Don Alfonso), Kang Wang (Ferrando), Andrey Zhilikhovsky (Guglielmo), Laura Wilde (Fiordiligi), Rihab Chaieb (Dorabella), Ana María Martinez (Despina)
Washington National Opera Chorus, Steven Gathman (chorus master), Washington National Opera Orchestra, Erina Yashima (conductor)
Alison Moritz (director), Erhard Rom (sets), Lynly A. Saunders (costumes), Mark McCullough (lights)

Così fan tutte, certainly the best of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s three collaborations with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, is an unlikely choice for politically correct Washington. It is replete with cruel stereotypes about women and their foibles. Indeed, the opera’s whole premise is that “women’s fidelity” is, in the cynical old Don Alfonso’s words, “like the Arabian phoenix – everyone says it exists, but no one knows where it is.” “It’s about cheating?” a nearly forgotten college girlfriend of mine asked in disappointment when I perhaps injudiciously invited her to attend it with me in Washington some 25 years ago. Since then, Washington Opera has become Washington National Opera. Its transformative artistic director Plácido Domingo has been cast down and forgotten amid old and unproved sexual harassment allegations. Under Francesca Zambello’s leadership, fueled by the passions of the #MeToo movement, it has become a forum for exploring gender and sexuality in society, sometimes in an edgy way. In Don Giovanni, its second‑to‑last production before the Covid‑19 pandemic, the libertine title character was haunted by the ghosts of his (presumably murdered) conquests, while the program presented the women currently in his life as “survivors.” Beginning next season, the company will bestow an award for “nonbinary” and transgender singers.

How refreshing that Washington chose Così as its first full‑scale, post‑pandemic mainstage production (a gala concert last November marked its return; a program of short new operas preceded Così by a week). Alison Moritz’s staging fell appealingly into what might be called the “stylized traditional” genre, with Erhard Rom’s sets colorfully looking more or less like what they should resemble. Lynly A. Saunders devised elegant eighteenth‑century costumes to keep us in mind of the time and the place. For greater intimacy, the performance was given in the Kennedy Center’s smaller Eisenhower Theater, normally used for dramatic theater, with the orchestra seated invisibly behind the action on stage. The opening night had a gala feel, with the capital’s great and good strongly represented and as beautifully dressed as possible under the circumstances.

Making her Washington debut, Erina Yashima conducted an ebullient performance, which began with a solemn playing and singing of the Ukrainian national anthem, a gesture that matched the Ukrainian colors alertly projected onto the Kennedy Center. The cast of younger singers, mostly in their debut roles with the company, was beautifully curated, though the show was simply stolen by the great Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Don Alfonso, who made his long overdue Washington debut. Furlanetto’s charcoal voice resonated as beautifully as ever, and his knack for gesture and expression convincingly projected a field of gravity that magnetized the other characters. His foil and accomplice, the maid Despina, was alluringly sung by the fine soprano Ana María Martinez. Company debutantes Laura Wilde and Rihab Chaieb played the easily tempted sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, with mezzo Chaieb turning in the more compelling performance. Kang Wang, making his debut, offered a sweet‑voiced tenor that captured Ferrando’s ardor. Andrey Zhilikhovsky tended to belt out Guglielmo’s role, but still added a feather in the cap of his burgeoning career. As an ensemble, the synergy was palpable and strongly signaled that Washington is back.

Paul du Quenoy



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